"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

If Walls Could Talk: Scotty's Castle

Hundreds of feet below sea level on the arid sands of Death Valley, California lies Scotty's Castle a home that represents the symbiotic dream of two unlikely friends: one who longed to be a cowboy, and one who aspired to be a millionaire. Together, they built a legend.

 Walter Scott (aka: Death Valley Scotty) had spent his life avoiding rules, getting by on his wits and perfecting the art of the tall tale. Albert Mussey Johnson was an engineer and a millionaire from Chicago bound by family loyalty to follow in his father's footsteps in spite of his own ambition.

When a train accident left his legs paralyzed, Albert's wife, Bessie, introduced him to someone she thought might cheer him up: a traveling cowboy in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, Death Valley Scotty, and the rest, as they say, was history.

The meeting resulted in Albert "investing" in Scotty's gold mine in Death Valley. The problem was, Scotty didn't have one.

Albert had been swindled. By the time he realized this, however, he had fallen in love with Death Valley and was having more fun than he ever thought possible. He had even recovered significantly from his accident. Albert and Bessie decided to build the vacation home of their dreams -with Scotty's help.

They found land (with a water source) in the Grapevine Canyon area of the valley and construction began in 1922.  Architect Martin de Dubovay, engineer, Mat Roy Thompson, and designer Charles Alexander Mac Neilledge paid extraordinary attention to detail. 
The couple wanted their new home to look like a Spanish hacienda and had many materials, including hand-wrought iron fixtures, tile, custom furniture, hand selected tapestries and antiques imported directly from Spain and other parts of Europe.

Although the villa was originally named,  Death Valley Ranch by the Johnson's, it didn't take long for rumors to spread about a wealthy gold miner who had built a lavish, million-dollar castle.

In light of the real owner's devout religious beliefs and a concern that perhaps the charitable organizations funded by the couple may feel they were being shorted, Albert and Bessie helped perpetuate the myth and the home became widely known as, Scotty's Castle.

In actuality, Scotty had a bedroom at the castle and his own home (built by the Johnsons) just a few miles away.

Over the years, artists, politicians, movie stars and British royalty were guests at the castle.

A 500-pound wrought iron chandelier presides over the great room.

Death Valley Scotty's tombstone, marking his grave on a hill overlooking the castle, reads: "I got few things to live by: Don't say nothing that will hurt anybody. Don't give advice -- nobody will take it anyway. Don't complain. Don't explain."

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